Uniquely Devoted To Bamboo

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Many people on Long Island hate the sight of it, obsess over how to get rid of it and demand that their local governments legislate against it, but 94-year-old Kensington resident Gertrude Rosen speaks lovingly of her extraordinary crop of bamboo, which almost completely surrounds her home on Beverly Road at the eastern end of the village.
Rosen, an architect who moved into the Kensington Tudor in 1962 with her husband Joseph and their three children, was first introduced to the plant 35 years ago by a Kings Point client who wanted to screen a property in Connecticut with the rapidly growing stalks.
“She wanted to put up a barrier, so we went out together and bought some clumps,” said Rosen, who has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and a very active social calendar. “It was her idea to use bamboo, not mine. I bought two clumps, myself, for about $100 each, and later bought a third.”
Those clumps were first planted in front of the house. “I planted them there because I was trying to screen myself from the noise and heavy traffic on Beverly Road and it worked,” she recalled. “Now it surrounds my whole house.” The front of the house also features randomly placed remnants of the house’s original garage doors, removed when the Rosens converted their garage into a working studio.
Rosen and her late husband, who was also an architect, met in architectural school at NYU in the late 1930’s and were married for 55 years.
Bamboo critics have complained about the invasive plant’s ability to spread rapidly in a horizontal direction so quickly that it has damaged sidewalks, driveways, pipes and building foundations. At least 12 communities on the Island, including Great Neck Estates and Plandome, have passed legislation in the last few years to either ban new plantings or hold landowners responsible for damages.
The Town of Hempstead has legislation on its books but the Town of North Hempstead does not. Great Neck Estates’ village code says, in part, that bamboo is “dangerous to the public health, safety and welfare of persons and property” and holds homeowners “responsible to confine the plant” and liable for any expenses related to bamboo removal from a property which has been “invaded by such plantings.”
But Rosen’s bamboo doesn’t seem to be a major issue in Kensington, according to Mayor Susan Lopatkin. “We’ve been working with the homeowner,” said the Mayor, when asked about the property. “It’s a safety issue. In bad weather it becomes a hazard because some of the bamboo falls on to Beverly Road and we’ve explained that to the homeowner.”
Rosen recently had the first 10 feet of bamboo cut back from her front lawn at her own cost in response to the village’s request. “We’ll evaluate whether the homeowner’s efforts have been effective enough in eliminating the danger,” the Mayor added.“ We’ll keep our eye on it. Right now there doesn’t seem to be a need for legislation. We’re a small village.”
A quick tour of the property reveals that Rosen is diligent in keeping her bamboo from spreading onto other properties. She has it cut down wherever necessary. “They don’t bother me about it at all,” she says of her neighbors. “I’ve never heard a word from them about it.”
The root system of bamboo is so deep that it is extremely difficult to remove it completely. Proper planting sometimes requires the use of concrete barriers to control its spread but even that is not always effective.
“I love bamboo,” Rosen said, but agrees that it can cause difficulties. “It’s a form of grass. It just grows by itself. It comes up wherever there’s open ground. It can grow full height in one season, about 18 feet.”
“It’s a very beautiful plant,” she continued. “It’s so beautiful visually and audibly. The sound of it in the wind is simply gorgeous. It’s music. In the rain it’s especially beautiful.”
“It’s surprising how many other people love bamboo,” she added. “People stop and ask me about it all the time — where to get it, how to grow it and will I dig up a plant and give it to them. That never works because it needs its own root system. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me to let them dig up a clump, but nobody’s had success with it.”